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National Perspective : '94 ELECTIONS / Bypassing the Politicians


Fueled by a perception of gridlock in Washington, a disgruntled citzenry seems determined to take things into their own hands. In addition to proposals placed on the ballot by politicians in many states, voters next month will consider 78 citizens initiatives--the most in a half-century--tackling dozens of controversial issues elected officials often ignore. The primary reason for the increase in the number of initiatives is "a general frustration with the legislative process," said Bob Stern, co-director of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit research group. He cited term limits as a perfect example of something a legislature would be loath to consider, but which has proven to be a very popular ballot issue.

"The danger with initiatives is that any one with $1 million can buy their way onto the ballot" by paying for signature gatherers, Stern added. "When you get too many (proposals) on the ballot, people will just vote no on everything." He said that many of the initiatives are poorly written and "add to the public's growing skepticism in government."

Too many initiatives can also create a backlash. In Washington state, for example, which recently had led the country in trend-setting initiatives, just one of 33 proposals made the ballot this year--a plan to expand the denture industry. But next door in Oregon, voters will have 15 ballot initiatives to consider, ranging from euthanasia to ending free speech protections for child pornography.

The bulk of this year's initiatives deal with crime or gambling or are attempts to tighten control on elected officials--either through term limits, campaign financing or reducing lawmakers' ability to tax.

Californian's will be voting on 10 initiatives ranging from immigration to health care. Here is a look at the rest of the nation, both citizens' initiatives and issues placed on the ballot by legislators:

* Gambling: Measures to expand gambling in one fashion or another appear on the ballots in eight states--Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Wyoming. Casino gambling is now allowed in half of the country, either on land or on riverboats.

* Taxes: Voters in four states--Florida, Missouri, Montana and Oregon--are demanding a greater say in the revenue-raising process by adding measures that require voter approval of any new taxes. Montana and Nevada have initiatives requiring super majorities in their state legislatures to approve any new taxes.

* Crime: Six states--California, Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, Ohio and Utah--have ballot measures that add or strengthen "victims bills of rights." Georgia and Oregon have measures on the ballot to set specific penalties for violent crimes. Wyoming voters will consider a proposal to create a life sentence that allows for no parole or pardons. In Ohio, death row inmates would lose one step in the appeals process if a proposal passes. In Colorado, an initiative would eliminate bail for ex convicts who are arrested on new charges.

* Gay rights: Ten states tried to place anti-gay rights initiatives on the ballot this year, but only Idaho and Oregon succeeded. Colorado's attempt at such legislation, Amendment 2, was approved by voters two years ago but was never enacted. Last week, the state supreme court declared it unconstitutional. Currently, no states have laws barring gay rights.

* Campaign finance reform: Diving into a subject that the U.S. Congress was unable to agree upon, six states (Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Oregon) have initiatives on the ballot that would regulate campaign contributions and spending. In Oregon, voters are considering allowing contributions only from constituents and reducing the amount one can contribute to elected officials. Colorado voters are considering capping the amount politicians can get from paid lobbyists, political action committees, corporations, labor unions and government-connected big business at $50 a year. A Massachusetts proposal would limit the amount special interests can spend on ballot questionnaires.

* Abortion: Wyoming has an initiative that, if approved, would charge doctors performing abortions with felonies unless the life of the mother were in danger or the pregnancy were the result of rape or incest. A proposal to require parental notification gathered enough signatures in Colorado but was removed from the ballot by the state supreme court for technical reason. A 24-hour waiting period and informed-constant measure also failed to make the ballot in Washington.

* Euthanasia: Oregon has the only ballot measure allowing physicians to perform euthanasia. The measure would allow terminally ill patients to take prescription drugs to end their lives. Currently, no state allows assisted suicide, although a Michigan citizens' commission recommended that the state legislature authorize the practice under a detailed set of restrictions.

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